While Mzansi tobacco farmers have been forced to drop out of the sector because of illicit trading, the South African Tobacco Transformation Alliance (Satta) has called for more engagement over the proposed Tobacco Products Control bill.
Satta spokesperson Zacharia Motsumi said they are calling on the National Assembly to reject the bill and transfer it to the National Economic Development and Labour Council for proper processing, including an independent analysis of the significant impact the bill would have on society.
‘Let us go back to the table’
According to Parliament, the bill seeks to regulate the sale and advertising of tobacco products and electronic devices and to make provision for the standardisation of their packaging.
The bill states, “To provide for standards in respect of the manufacturing and export of tobacco products and electronic delivery systems, to prohibit the sale of tobacco products and electronic delivery systems to children, to prohibit the free distribution of tobacco products and electronic delivery systems.”
“The reason for the collapse in tobacco farming is simple. Illegal trade in tobacco products is stealing the market and destroying an entire sector of the economy,” Motsumi said.
He explained that 157 tobacco farmers disappeared, and the retrenchment of thousands of tobacco workers and the halving of the sector’s contribution to the national fiscus can all be traced to lower demand for legal cigarettes.
Hardly any tobacco farmers left
“The market share of ‘legal’ cigarettes has dropped to less than 30%. The impact on employment in our sector has been devastating, today, there are only 10 emerging tobacco farmers.
“This is a decrease of 92% from 2019 when there were 125 tobacco farmers. South Africa also has less than 155 commercial tobacco farmers, 21% fewer than the 197 it had in 2019,” he said.
Public submissions for the Tobacco Products Control Bill concluded on the last day of August. However, Satta said Parliament has an opportunity to rectify and save the dying industry.
“The illicit tobacco industry, which Satta refers to as ‘an organised criminal network’, has entirely taken over the tobacco market, and the new regulations will essentially hand over the remaining portion of the market to criminals,” he added.
Fuelling Illegal trade
According to Satta, the measures outlined in the bill will strengthen the illegal trade while causing additional harm to legitimate tobacco product growers, processors, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers.
“We have no hesitation in saying that the new bill will worsen public health, destroy businesses and jobs, harm the fiscus and the economy, and further tarnish South Africa’s international reputation; and it will do this by fuelling what is already one of the world’s biggest illicit tobacco markets.
“The only beneficiaries of the bill will be the wealthy criminals behind the illegal trade, they will scoff at the new measures, just as they have ignored so many previous laws. But they will also capitalise on them,” he said.
According to Motsumi, the current bill was a fundamental step backwards in the arena of tobacco control and it was among the most draconian in the world.
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